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Sunday, 6 November 2016

Thank you Gareth Morgan, thank you!

Friday was a long day at work. I started at 7AM (as is my norm) and I was just coming out of a rather tense meeting at 5.30PM, heading towards my desk in the hope of quickly checking my work in-box, scan the web and get out of there before 6.

Emails cleared, coat on and just a quick check of the news on Stuff when something caught my eye.

It was an article that Gareth Morgan, billed in the article as "philanthropist" (which I suppose he is but most of know him as an economist, the guy who runs a Kiwsaver fund or that "nutter who wants to kill all cats") had formed a political party (The Opportunities Party - TOP for short) and was planning to "light a fuse" under Parliament (the symbolism of uttering such a statement on the front steps of Parliament on the eve of Guy Fawkes was undoubtedly known to him).

There are not a lot of articles on NZ politics these days that can get my pulse racing but Sam Sachdeva's article certainly did that (although I am really enjoying Tracy Watkins semi gonzo reportage out of the US at the moment - keep it up Tracy!) and by the time I had finished reading and was heading for the door it was just after 6PM.

So here I am on a relaxed Sunday after doing some odd jobs round the house sitting here with a beer and some good broken beat wafting down the hallway as I write this and its been a few days for me to mull things over because Sam's article was absolute gold in terms of quotes and information.

Think about it; Gareth Morgan is going to form a political party, "light a fuse" under parliament and he has all the solutions to NZ's problems because they are "just so easy, really." If that's not a clarion call to an exciting next 12 months till the election then I don't know what would be.

The only more exciting alternative to the coming election would be if John (father of inutilus playboy Max) Key was to pull the fleshy rubber mask of his face at a Beehive press conference and stand revealed as a Lizard Person from Rigel 6 and then announce to a stunned press gallery that National were renaming the party the Rigelian Reptile Party (RRP) and would be running on a platform of fattening up the people for "their new overlords" and that we would be all invited to a feast on the mother ship when it arrived.

He would then utter a guttural hiss when asked about "the actual details" of that plan before retreating from the light while his press secretary would try desperately to put a positive spin on things as angry chaos reigns among the assembled reporters.

But no, Key would never do that, he is much too cold blooded to loose the plot now before the mother-ships arrive, he wants us docile and unprepared for whats coming so we will just have to entertain ourselves with what Mr Morgan has to give us.

And Gareth has been bountiful in his entertainment offerings. To start he delivered in one press conference a wealth of quotes which just scream for further analysis and I note that Sachdeva was very careful to use quotation marks around every utterance he (Morgan) used lest we think he (Sachdeva) was taking things out of proportion and casting Morgan in an incorrect light.

To give Morgan his credit though he appeared to know what he was saying as when asked about the situation he likened himself to a NZ Trump, which shows a higher degree of self awareness than Trump would ever have but does little to change the fact that what he was saying sounded a lot like many of the core narratives that Trump has been uttering (just getting things done, knocking out the establishment politicians, how easy things are etc).

Now lets pause here for a second before we dig into the meat of the situation and note two key points.

The first is that I while I am not writing post purely in the vein of "politics as entertainment" that's where we are in the world today.

When the elites start perpetuating their own broken system to such an extent that the waters keep rising and they just yawn and go back to their petty squabbles the populace either starts to take power in to their own hands or succumbs to their powerlessness and begins to mass hallucinate, treating the whole experience with the kind of detached attitude of watching reality TV ("its ok, its only on TV, it cant hurt us") rather than a matter which needs addressing urgently.

Net result: a political climate perfect for an individual to come in and start saying the things like Trump, and now Morgan has done.

The second is that while we have been laughing at whats has been going down in the US of A we may not be laughing in 12 months time.

Not because Morgan will turn out to be the anti-Christ in the same manner that Trump has been demonized but that we (the collective we as a nation) have been unable to recognize what is happening to our society and even if we do, we (the collective "we" again) remain unwilling to do anything substantive about it and thus we (still collective) will not to take the power back from our elected representatives and instead wait with baited breath for a person to come out and tell us they have the solution to all our problems and that those solutions are "just so easy, really".

Of course NZ politics is not the same as US politics, we have MMP to prevent the lunacy of a two party diktat but we do seem to have a more than a few pressing problems to which the government (or other parties) wont do anything about which are just crying out for a solution, final or otherwise.

And that's where we are today, politics as entertainment and an electorate low on voting moxie and burnt out on a secession of lying scumbags in Wellington that we don't believe anything they say and to which we would happily give over power to a person who has the solution to all our problems and not "afraid to make the hard calls" (that last quote is taken from the Opportunities party website).

So don't say "it cant happen here", don't say "not in NZ" because it just has happened here and its been happening all round the rest of the world (the US, the UK, Greece, France, Spain, Austria, the whole Middle East with the Arab Spring and many others) so you can either roll yourself back into the comfort of your delusions or crack open both eyes and take a look around at what is knocking on the front door.

Its not the Mormons or Colin Craig, its not Forrest and Bird, its not some aggressive vacuum cleaner salesman or even the cops (come to bust your euthanasia cult), no its Gareth Morgan and what he has to offer is far more appealing.

Now back to the analysis.

Morgan may face the same problems that the Conservatives and Mana/Internet faced but I think its safe to say that Morgan is not playing the same game as either of those two parties.

To start Colin Craig and the Conservatives came close but in the end it was their conservative religious flavor which kept the electorate from buying in wholesale while Mana/Internet had just the opposite problem by being far too radical and talking just shy of revolt at times.

Morgan is unlikely to be taking either such path and unlike Craig or Dotcom (also both also rich men trying their hand at politics) he already has positive brand recognition (though his investment and economic backgrounds) and cuts a lot closer to our own Millionaire PM, John Key, so he can already claim some legitimacy to the throne (in a world where economics is religion).

Also Morgan is already media tested and while some of his media exposure in the past is less than favorable (think cat culling) he also has his philanthropic background to buttress that in terms of brand equity so unlike Dotcom or Craig he is not just a faceless moneybag trying to muscle into parliament. He has credibility and enough history to be the face of something larger without being sunk by a wave of voter reservation killing his polling from the get go.

That does not mean he is going to sweep into parliament but it does mean that in an electorate which is jaded from the same old worn out politics and politicians he may be able to gain enough traction in 12 months to break 5%.

But where will he get his votes from I hear you cry, where?

Good question, voice in my head, good question.

The answer is either one of the following sources:

Morgan and TOP can either follow the normal route and try to take them off other political parties which is likely to see him move to fight it out for the middle voter with National, Labour and NZ First (because he would not survive on either the far left or right given that the Greens and Act have those spaces locked down) or try for what Mana/Internet intend and tap into the 25% plus of eligible voters who don't vote. Or he could go for both.

No matter what path he chooses its an uphill slog and given his intent to light a fire in parliament and upset the establishment it seems likely that he is going to try for both but with a tactical emphasis on muscling NZ First out of the center and then cobbling together enough votes to get a seat in parliament either via an electorate or the 5% threshold.

Both are paths fraught with danger but there is also that mood in NZ which, like the US, he can tap into and to which established NZ parties cannot; he can play the underdog outsider card for all its worth and even a political rock star like Winston Peters cannot swing that beat the same way because it is essentially a one time technique, it can only be used once as the party or individual enters the political sphere (or in Winston's case broke ranks in such a way as to essentially make him an underdog/outsider again) and plays on their unique position to gain votes as a form of protest.

Therefore come November 2017 Morgan could have mustered enough support to make the election a very interesting spectacle.

I don't think we will see a lot of Trumpism going round but neither will we see a lot of Clintonesque behavior. Instead it will be NZs own particular brand of sycophantic lolly scramble as politicians do the hustings and parties desperately try to outbid each other in promises while denouncing the other with Morgan in the middle sucking up just enough votes to create an even closer race than we were already likely to get.

Where Morgan will get his votes from will primarily be from NZ First territory but also from Labour and National. Winston Peters has had the political rebel space to himself for so long that its going to be a shock for him to potentially share it with another person playing the exact same card as he did in the early 90s. Winston of course has his niche voter bases (like the elderly) which will remain loyal to some degree but again its a fair guess that Morgan will be targeting such a demographic as a good source of votes and again playing off his sound economic image.

And the TOP website, while currently very sparse, gives us some clues as to what Morgans likely political viewpoint will be with references to individual choice and the afore mentioned "making the hard calls" indicating (along with his economic background) a likely conservative twang to his middle of the road stance (again something to worry Winston).

Morgans biography and life history indicate a possible libertarian viewpoint, albeit filtered through the lens of life in New Zealand. His self made millionaire story has all the hallmarks of a man believing in self reliance and while its too early to be sure I sense that Morgan will be closer to the right than the left when it comes down to things (again prime NZ First territory).

But amid all this speculation it would be wrong to either write him off or take him to the bank. Morgan is treading a hard road and new political parties have come and gone before and not just in recent memory so the next 12 months is going to be a race in many ways and I don't think he will be doing this just for the grins so watch out establishment politicians.

Finally its worth noting some of the responses from other politicians which came out in Sachdeva's article.

Andrew Little's response was the most unbelievable of the lot as unless he knows something we don't its hard not to imagine his comment about Morgan being "in our corner" as nothing but a bravado laced off the cuff comment said through clenched teeth when confronted by a reporter seeking comment.

Little is rapidly running out of time to get Labour back into the game for 2017 (although perhaps some magic has come out of their recent party conference - lets watch that space) and he does not need another vote siphoning upstart political party wrecking things just when the basic plan for the coming election might have been taking shape, so his take on Morgan is likely to be political blather more than genuine happiness at the prospect of another challenger for the title.

The "not worried" from Green co-leader James Shaw also has the reek of someone trying hard not to hide his upset at the prospect of another potential vote magnet in orbit around the Beehive. To be sure potential Morgan and Green voters are probably not the same demographic but if Labour gets knackered by Morgan then the odds of the Greens going into government go down exponentially unless they decide to play with National.

Steven Joyce's response is probably the most prosaic of the lot, saying it will "add color and entertainment" but that is, like Labour, ignoring the potential loss of disgruntled National voters who were never going to go to Labour or NZ First but just might swing towards Morgan (chipping nationals lead down even further and making the prospect of a deal with a king maker party all the more necessary) if he says the right things. Still he was accurate in his take of the situation by stating that there have been "crowded markets before" and that a clear message is important.

Absent from the feedback in the article was, surprise surprise, any comment from Winston Peters and perhaps that was simply because Winston was not available for comment but I think its telling that the one person who will truly suffer if Morgan gets his mojo on was not around to have some input.

So that's all for now but I think Morgan will be making a solid play for the punter and in doing so he has made the next 12 months of politics infinitely more interesting by coming in and having the potential to breakup the squalid political dynamic that had begun to harden like a vomit stain on the rug the night after the party.

So thank you Gareth Morgan, thank you very much.


  1. Evidence-based, issue-focused, not-a-careerist....... what's not to like in a land governed by ho-hum, policy-free, steady-as-she-goes-and hope-they-don't-notice types?

  2. Hi Galeandra:

    I would agree, I was not being sarcastic about the entrance of Gareth Morgan into NZ politics, he will shake things up if he gets traction and given the mood of democratic electorates these days he might just do so.

    That said, like Trump, he may feel the urge to make moves which some, many, all may not like which I think he hinted at in his comment about making hard decisions which would be anyone's barometer for whether they like him or not.